How Yoga Can Positively Transform Your Body and Mind at Any Age. From a Female and Male Perspective.
Paul: This is LifehackrDiet Podcast number 013. It’s time for some warrior pose.
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Paul: The LifehackrDiet Podcast exists to empower you to get one step, 1 mile and 1 pound of weight loss closer to your goals of superior health, wellness and well-being. Hello and welcome, I am Paul Michaels the host of LifehackrDiet podcast and I am thrilled as usual that you are here for podcast number 013.
And today we are going to be talking about one of my favorite subjects, believe it or not and it is yoga. And I have been doing yoga for little over a year now and I didn’t start off thinking that I’m going to go to yoga, I want to learn how to do yoga. It actually started off as a way of getting my eldest son into yoga which failed miserably. But what we did is we ended up having some classes, private classes with our family. And the idea was since he suffered from muscle pain and when he was going through puberty he grew like a ton, he is like six-foot four now and he grew a ton really quickly so he gets muscle pains and so we were just looking at yoga as a way of possibly dealing with those things. Whether or not it would help his muscle pain I don’t know but as a teenage boy he wasn’t having any of it.
But the good news is my wife and I who were attending the classes with him, the private classes, we got hooked big time and have been doing it ever since and just absolutely love it, it’s transformed us in so many ways.
And so I say to people and this is not based on science but I’m sure there is some science out there that can back a little bit of this up but I have to say I think yoga is a prescription against aging or at least slowing aging down, it is just incredible. And on the LifehackrDiet I have been losing weight, I have lost over 30 pounds and by doing yoga at the same time as I lose the weight, yoga tones my muscles and as a result I am… I don’t know, I am shapely. I am chiseled as a result of both losing weight and walking and doing yoga.
And at 50 it’s kind of weird but I am more muscular now than I was as a teenager and I did sports, tons of sports as a teenager. So the yoga is absolutely transformative and has a huge impact on your life. And I really want to share this with you and I want to show you how it can transform your life too.
And as a male certainly in the minority in yoga classes and frankly I have no idea why because it’s not an easy thing to do, obviously you start with the easier classes and you work your way up but when you get into the medium to upper medium levels, it’s really tough and you have to be really strong to do it, it’s quite something.
And when I watched some of my classmates, female classmates who are in their 60s, 70s, 80s and they are doing all of this stuff, it’s just mind-boggling. It’s incredible! They are phenomenal, they are enjoying life and they are in shape and there is really nothing they can’t do.
And for the men that are in the classes, again we are usually a minority but there’s really no reason for it, there are huge advantages to being there and I just want to make sure that everybody gets a chance to hear this message.
So what I have done in this podcast is I’ve actually put together two of my favorite teachers Maggie Winter and Jerry Urban and I decided to interview them together so we can kind of get a he said, she said, she said he said about yoga and get a perspective on how it can positively affect your body, your mind and it’s something you can start at any age. So that’s what we’re going to talk about today so let’s get right into the interview, I will catch you on the backend.
Maggie: Hi, my name is Maggie I am the owner of Green Tea Yoga. I’m a yoga instructor. I started practicing when I was 19 years old. I had moved to the New England area from the Midwest and when I arrived here it was the stimuli increased tremendously so I had moved from a very quiet town to a very hectic, chaotic place and I started realizing that I was more stressed out, I had more anxiety, I couldn’t breathe like I could before, I couldn’t slow down and I was kind of losing who I was when I moved out here.
So I walked into a class at the Y in Waltham and I started practicing and from then on I just continued my practice. I had taught as an occupational therapist, I was working with a lot of children in schools and different centers, outpatient centers and I started implementing a lot of yoga with these children, children who had problems with coordination, problems settling, problems focusing or balance issues. And I noticed a tremendous effect with these kids; they grew, they became more outgoing, they talked a lot more. And so I decided to go and get back my training in Newburyport and from that point on I started teaching about 10 years ago and ever since I have been a yoga teacher.
Jerry: Hi, my name is Jerry Urban. I’m a yoga teacher here at Green Tea Yoga amongst other studios. I discovered my yoga in LA when I lived out there. I had been working out at the gym a little bit and I noticed that every time I had an injury I would kind of go towards the yoga classes.
Like I tell everybody else there were a lot of cute girls going into one specific room and I couldn’t figure out why so I took a peek and there they were doing yoga and it looked like it was a little bit challenging. I thought it might be kind of fun and I then had a few friends that went to classes and went and told me that I should give it a try.
And so I did and I liked it a lot and I never really… I was going back and forth between yoga and working out and I think upon moving to Boston I just found that it became more of a place that I liked to come into, it would kind of ground me. There were moments when I was going through and on grounding.
And so it felt like that was something that I was drawn to and it felt like it calmed me and gave me a little bit of centering. And so from that point on I went to Kripalu to do my first 200 hours and I think I jumped right into Shreya training right after that in which I am still evolving in the training. And yeah, that’s kind of how I got into what I did with that.
I didn’t have any background in, like Maggie had for Occupational Therapy. It was more about what was good for me and what I needed at the time and when I started yoga I could even touch my toes. And so it was a practice over time. And I think I started somewhere in my 30s I’m thinking like 33 when I first started doing yoga and so it’s been a long process. I am 50 now and I can still touch my toes which is an amazing thing.
Paul: So Maggie, why should a woman consider doing yoga and what are the benefits for her?
Maggie: When I think women today, they are constantly multitasking, they are feeling very stressed, they have a full-time job, a lot of children, responsibilities at home with their families; women are overwhelmed today and they are feeling the stress.
So they get into yoga, one great thing is just decreasing stress, it’s giving them time to be alone, to turn inward, to shut off the mind. Another important part of it is it helps sleep; a lot of women especially as we age, we get up as your cooking the morning and you have a difficult time going back to bed. So you notice through a regular practice you sleep much better and you find that.
And of course women we are always worried about bodies and how we look and the expectation, especially for women as you age, guys you’ve got it a lot easier, as you age the expectations of staying beautiful and thin and toned and all of these things, women feel that. So they come to yoga and they don’t… We don’t like to just work out, we don’t like to go to the gym and sit there on a treadmill, it’s kind of an art so you can move your body in all sorts of different positions and it’s challenging but it’s graceful in a flowing way putting these pieces together with your body and really connecting with your body.
So I think just overall helping with decreasing stress, your body, your health and sleeping at night.
Paul: So Jerry, why would a man be interested or benefit from yoga?
Jerry: Most men come to it because they either have tightness in their hamstrings or shoulders, they haven’t been able to touch their toes much less see their toes sometimes. So for them, it’s more about the physical issues and the longevity of what we come into because sometimes you wake up and you just don’t want to get out of bed; back hurts, your shoulder hurts, there’s a lot of physical laborers out there that yoga would benefit because we don’t often take the time or structure our days around a release, everything is go, go, go we’ve got to get this done, we’ve got to do that, time to get home, put the kids to bed. And by the time the day is ending, you are about ready to go to bed and you wake up again and start all over. And sometimes you just need to shut the other stuff out, focus on self for a while and we don’t often do that, to come into ourselves and really, really process the getting rid of stuff.
And so when you connect to the mat and you place your hands and feet on the ground, it’s a great place to just kind of connect. And when you start to breathe and get that breath flowing in the head, sometimes the ideas kind of just out slowly, it is still there circulating but it will drip out slowly and so at some point it becomes just you and the practice and nothing else around you.
We often come in with a lot of stuff and after you are done with the practice it feels like you might be a bit lighter, a little less weighted down. And over time with the consistency of the practice, allows you to actually, on a physical level, get into a deeper more gracious aspect between you and your muscles because we don’t often give ourselves much praise or thanks, we are always hard on ourselves and this is a place where you can really appreciate what you have or don’t have and work towards a place that you can appreciate.
Paul: So I think you both touched on this but what are three clear benefits that both men and women will get from starting yoga?
Maggie: For women one of the things is definitely strength; physically and mentally and emotionally; being able to have the confidence and the strength to get through the day. We are always bombarded with challenges, things we can’t control and being able to find within, a place of balance of calmness, strength. I think probably that’s one of the most important things.
And then also is just being able with your body just been able to keep your body mobile as we age through life, being able to be flexible and find the movement and again preventing any injuries and just knowing where your body is in space. So sometimes we’re just moving throughout life and when not really present with our body that connection is not there so finding that body connection and again just reiterating, sleep at night I think yoga really helps you sleep well. So it gives you that by balance to sleep throughout the night so when you get up in the morning your nice and refreshed and ready to go the next day.
Paul: And Jerry, for men?
Jerry: First aspect is the quality of both strength and stretch. When people look into a room, yoga room and they think, “That looks like it’s a little bit difficult stretch wise” because for men we are more focused on the billing aspect then the releasing or stretching out the muscle afterwards. We always go in for the pump and not for the release.
And so in yoga when you are practicing your actually creating retention in the muscles so that you’re strengthening at the same time and when you start to strengthen maybe drawing like feet together toward one another in a warrior pose, you are creating resistance and that resistance in essence is releasing another muscle so that you can settle into the pose a little bit more. And it’s not just about stretching but it’s about creating that and that strengthening within the yoga practice isn’t about the way that we look but it’s a way to kind of release the energy in our head. When we are refining the muscle, strengthening and stretching, we are into a place where we are not comparative so much anymore.
And so you’re not trying to compete necessarily and it’s more, that’s when you start to draw into yourself and the focus becomes more about being on the mat and what you are doing for yourself and the focus again draws into the aspect of coming into oneself rather than trying to please everybody else.
Because if you are unhappy and you’re trying to please all of these people, you’re probably pushing more than you are drawing in and so when you start to realize that you don’t have to have all of this outward energy going out all of the time but if you focus on yourself and you focus on cleaning out the crap inside of your life, it’s kind of like cleaning your closet out and every once in a while we have to do that. And so your focus, when your mind is uncluttered becomes clearer, you can see a little bit broader than that narrow vision and sometimes that lends itself to you may be reaching out into a more expansive quality in things that you can absorb in life.
If you are like this, there is a lot of stuff on the outside that you’re not going to see and so when we start to release the clutter and open up that vision there’s a lot more that we’re going to take in in this life because it’s not just about what’s in front of us all the time and that’s a really important quality in what I think yoga can give us. Did I go through three there? I hope I did.
Paul: I think you got it. All right Maggie, let’s look at stages of life from being a kid to being 20, thirty-something, middle-aged and then beyond. How can yoga helped in each of those stages?
Maggie: So I’m starting with children, especially young girls. I teach a lot of kids classes and you see more and more pressure on these young children, especially girls, boys too but already seven, eight-year-old children, the pressure of looking a certain way, wearing certain types of clothes, the name brands, wearing your hair a certain way and you have children picking on each other, making fun of one another they come in here very stressed already at a young age.
So when I’m working with them, we start a lot with breath. We do a lot of breath work, we talk a lot about the yamas and niyamas of yoga. We talk about Ahimsa nonviolence, self-esteem, working through things, how to be better friends, how to be… How to come from the heart center space instead of judging.
So from the very beginning if you can start young, that’s the best place to start. I mean it’s great to start anytime you can but they are open, they are intuitive, they are ready to take it in. So children nowadays they really need yoga, it’s very stressful with all the homework, the sports that they are involved in. They are just being judged all the time or other children and I think the breath work, the body movement and the self-esteem piece of the yoga practice for children is really important.
And then moving on to teens or adults especially for adults as you get older, you realize, “Oh my gosh what did I do in life? Where am I now?” Maybe the kids are finally out of the house, maybe you are the place you don’t want to be at anymore so you start to find a practice and you start to realize, “This isn’t my truth, this isn’t where I want to be at this moment.”
So you start practicing, you gain confidence, you gain strength, you become more aware. I think that’s a huge step in the middle age adult population, is awareness and then you realize, “Oh, I need to make some changes in my life. I am working too hard, I am not balancing my life, I am not eating well, I’m not resting well, I am not exercising,” and you start practicing yoga.
Even if it’s for the asana or the poses of the physical part, you start to see a transformation within. You see that you are more flexible, that you can sleep at night, that you have more energy, that you can tolerate things better. You feel that you are more connected to people and you feel more bonded with the world whereas before you were just rushing through it. So I think it’s important in that age because there is a lot of change happening in that period.
And then as you get even older and everyone is out of the house, you may or may not be with your partner still, you start to dive deeper within finding that spirituality so you really find a connection within. It’s a part of your life that you realize everything is passed by and I realize my life is temporary and things are always changing. So you get into the practice.
I find a lot of older women come to my classes to just meditate or relax. They come to just be present and they love the community, they want to be around other people, they let go of all of the expectations, they let go of the physical, they let go of the judgment and now they are really in tune with who they are and what they want in life and yoga just continues to have them evolve physically as well because they are more flexible, they are more mobile, they don’t feel like they are going to fall, their spine is more malleable and mobile as well so they just feel much better.
And they tell me that all the time, “I have an injury but it’s feeling better as I practice.” or, “I am able to sleep better,” or “I am able to move better,” “I have been playing this game with my friend…” whatever it is they notice changes in their body, their emotions, their mental state and everything.
Paul: I think she said it all.
Jerry: I know right. With regards to kids, there is huge energy. And for just that little bit of moment if you have them in class and they are able to sit down and find a moment where they can close their eyes and feel just a stillness they may not realize what’s going on but for them it’s fun because they don’t often stop. They are always go, go, go explore, explore, explore so it’s really great to get them in touch with that. And it may not be anything that they would get in touch with for a while. It may be that they would come into it in their teens or in their 20s or maybe later in life like me and that the realization comes in but over time it does.
With regards to teens, they are going through a lot of hormonal changes and learning to adapt breath in the physical body can sometimes help alter what’s going on inside the body or help us adapt to that physical change so that it doesn’t become such a dramatic place to be especially the hormones make us just go out in different directions and when you are emptying and clearing the mind becoming a little more focused that the anxieties and the things and the distractions aren’t as prominent I don’t think.
And as a young adult or an older adult again, the physical aspect, if we are starting to get into her 30s and 40s we’re going, “Dammit, I wish I have started this way earlier.” But the fact is it’s like you can’t always look in the past, you just work yourself forward and go, “Okay I’m going to go with this and see what happens.”
A lot of times people get overwhelmed by the fact that it’s really hard. They think, “Oh, that looks pretty easy,” until they actually get in there and they go, “That’s really hard.” Then it becomes a mind thing, “Am I going to stick with it or not?” And more often than not it becomes, it’s that type of thing where it’s like, “I can’t do this,” and sometimes you can do it right then and maybe you will come back to it later.
Or if you stick it out just like anything in life and you put a little focus into it, little bit of effort, not the effort of willfulness but the effort to really realize that there is the potential in un-weighting yourself that it could ultimately leave you in a more elated a space, a grounded space, freer for the physical body and a nice place where you can settle in if you can sit for a moment. Because we feel like we always have to go for a moment and not taking anything or not leave anything behind but just kind of sit with the stuff that you have and say, “It’s okay to be here.”
And each day you sit with that presents a little bit longer. And soon we are old, we are seniors, we are walking around all hunched over, or we are actually rolling the shoulders back, standing up and we have our vision forward but sometimes it’s that the focus doesn’t, and I’m going, “Oh, I wish I had done that.” There is the time, you can do it anytime.
Paul: What should people be looking for in a yoga teacher?
Maggie: All right. So I think when you are looking for a teacher definitely look at the training, that’s a big part of it but you have to look and see if they are personable, if there somebody you can relate to, somebody who is not up there just showing off, somebody who is going to walk around and adjust you, talk to you, ask you if you need anything, someone you feel comfortable enough with to raise your hand and say, “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, can you come over and please help me?” And that person is more than welcome to come over and help you and adjust you giving you props.
I think also a teacher saying to you, “Please be aware of your own body, you are the best teacher for yourself. If you have any injuries, medical conditions, let me know. Tell me about them so I can help you through the process.”
Jerry: I like to go to different teachers because each one has something different to say; an aspect of reflection may be a motivational thing. And so it’s about exploring and through life we tend to explore anyways. But you are going to hear a voice that you like and probably a voice that you don’t like.
I have another teacher that says sometimes she goes to classes and teachers that she doesn’t like because it’s not about them, it’s about you. And so you have to experience the things that aren’t necessarily comfortable and know that those things are going to happen every day and maybe sit and see if you can change the aspect where it’s not something.
But I really, really, for me is to hear what the teacher has to offer. I mean you’re going to get a lot of the same instructions with regard to the physical movements, not necessarily the same but roughly but it’s what you’re going to pull out of it and it might be a snippet, something that they say and go, “God you know what, if I could do that every day,” just one thing. And so for me the focus on the teacher is what they have to offer or somebody who can explain this.
Maggie: On that note sometimes I avoided the teachers when I need to be there, that’s the place I need to be the most but I have an aversion to it and I need to go and be there and stay with it the whole entire time. Sometimes I’ll avoid teachers who are really, really, really slow but that’s where I need to be.
Maggie: So it’s nice to be open to everything.
Jerry: Exactly. It’s probably why she doesn’t come to my class all the time.
Maggie: No, you’re awesome! I’m always there!
Paul: What should people look for in yoga studios?
Maggie: You want to start?
Jerry: I think if you walk into a place that feels warm and inviting, I tend to like a warmer studio than a colder studio but not hot. For me I love hot in the wintertime, hate it in the summertime.
If the people are nice when you walk in and they are inviting you in your like, “Okay, yeah I will come in and try it out.” But I think it’s just a feeling again, search it out and see. But knowing that there is a whole slew of teachers, you want to be willing to put money out and know that those teachers are going to support you and your practice and that’s a really big thing. Because when you’re buying class cards and month-long’s you want to make sure that there is enough classes to support that.
Maggie: I do agree with the Jerry on variety. I think the right is very important to come in and say, “Oh, I would like to try a restorative class. Maybe I would like to try a yin class. Maybe I am going to power it up today with this power hour class,” something that gives a variety so I can buy a class card and try them all.
I also think you need to go by your intuition where you feel comfortable, where you can be yourself and feel like you can come in and wear anything you want, not worry about wearing the Lu-Lu lemon and all of those brand-name clothing where you can just come in and be yourself entirely. And also for me a big part of it is like the way it looks, I know that sounds a little superficial but just to the colors and the warmth that you were talking about, sometimes you can go into a studio and it feels very sterile.
Maggie: … And there are mirrors everywhere when I am not the big mirror fan. So it’s nice to have a studio where you are just turning inward and you feel comfortable they are where you can just take your shoes off and relax and be yourself 100%.
Paul: Great. So a lot of activities and exercises we do require a lot of gear. How much gear do you need for yoga?
Maggie: Nothing! You, your body!
Jerry: A mat you are comfortable with…
Maggie: Yeah, that’s it.
Jerry: I’ve been through… I can’t tell you how many different mats until I found the one that I like. I’ll plug Jade because I really like them but I went, they have a fat mat that I started with because my knees hurt and it was hard for me to be in poses like Ustrasan or camel pose.
And then after a while I started getting more adapted in my practice and then it felt better to be on a thinner mat so I went to a thinner mat. So find one that works for you because they are going to be different. Most studios will have blocks, some will have bolsters and blankets and straps. So I would say most studios will have what you need, not everybody carries bolsters because that’s a little bit more for strategy if they do more restorative practices than they probably will have them.
Maggie: Yeah and I mean honestly, you need a mat maybe if that, a blanket if you want to start with…
Jerry: In fashionable yoga…
Maggie: … Yeah! Comfortable clothing for sure. Water, sometimes I just tell people to bring different layers of clothing; they can get chilly, some people want to warm it up so they put on extra layers otherwise is very simple, you really don’t need much at all.
Jerry: Yeah, water is probably important too.
Paul: That was great guys, thank you so much for being on the LifehackrDiet podcast and YouTube channel. It’s been great chatting to you both.
Maggie: Thank you for having us!
Jerry: thank you.
Paul: Well I hope you enjoyed that interview as much as Jerry and Maggie did. They are wonderful teachers, wonderful people. They have a wonderful time doing what they love to do and it’s kind of fun because in Jerry’s class, Maggie is always in the back doing the class and vice versa so they really enjoy each other’s perspectives.
So I strongly encourage you guys to go to your local yoga studios, by one of the discount starter packs and give it some time and try different teachers, try different classes, take your time, have an open mind because there is such a huge, huge payoff and it really can be a huge part of your life and really enable you for all your years and all your stages.
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